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"The Foreign Workers and Us," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 3, 1961)

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Spain and . . .

The situation in Spain is also contradictory: as is generally known, at the end of last year, the Spanish press, “out of the blue,” launched a veritable campaign against the recruitment of workers to Germany. In a number of papers, their fate in Germany was painted in dark colors: they are ruthlessly exploited by German adventurers, usurers, and business people; they are being paid less than the official rate. The system of payment in installments is another form of exploitation. On top of that, the usurious rents of landladies, who set up beds in every corner of the apartments at the price of a palatial hotel . . .

For now, we shall leave aside the truthfulness of these accusations. There is no denying that no small number of dubious characters are trying to get involved in the black and gray “labor market for foreigners.” The German ambassador in Madrid back then expressed his “serious concerns” about these directed exaggerations in the papers, and Professor Erhard’s visit in Spain brightened the atmosphere by paying the necessary costs. What has remained, however, is the impression of an ambivalent attitude in important Spanish circles: they are happy to rid themselves of the jobless, but at the same time they fear the political attitude and change in the Spanish returnees. That is understandable. To be on the safe side, they are not left entirely unobserved in Germany.

. . . Greece

Greece, finally, never made a secret of the fact that it wanted to see the emigration of its workers as a temporary condition, and that it gives preference to the industrialization of its own country. The Greeks see the industrial training of the emigrants as a necessary intermediary stage. The foreign labor reserve is thus difficult to gauge. For Italy, alone, official and semi-official estimates fluctuate between 500,000 and 1.5 million. In any case, we must share them with northern Italy, France, and Switzerland, where wages and social benefits are rather more favorable than here, and where there are fewer assimilation problems with respect to mentality – leaving aside northern Italy.

The German Philistine’s Magic Horn

It is known that a particularly sensitive ear for the subtle tones of the foreign mindset was never our strong suit. It is high time to pay attention that our middle management – beginning with the foreman and overseer, all the way to the level of the plant manager – does not smash more porcelain out of clumsiness than ambassadors, chiefs of personnel, and social workers can repair again. Even a reasonably full pay envelope does not make up for being addressed as – without in fact rude intentions – “Hey you, macaroni!” The Mediterranean peoples have much more in common than one might think. That includes sensibilitá, which is again impossible to translate. “Sensitivity” might come closest, but with the undertone of a great vulnerability, which is by no means always expressed. But let no one be deceived! What upsets the foreigners the most here are not even the living conditions. Even though they are not as a semiofficial news service disingenuously assures us: “Reproaches for poor housing are likely to be generally unjustified.” What gets on the foreigner’s nerve at every turn is the widespread, philistine, school-masterly self-righteousness of our social middle classes. At least that is the perception of those probably best familiar with the matter, namely the Italian social workers. The housing conditions improved last year. They will improve further with the 100 million made available by the Federal Office. The dietary habits will arrive at a reciprocal accommodation. All that is important. What is crucial, however, is whether we adjust to the foreign workers, whether we find the right attitude. In his speech on his firm’s anniversary in March of this year, Alfred Krupp demanded the following: “We should all be striving to make their stay in an environment that is foreign to them as pleasant as possible.” How far down has this spark traveled? First, however, we ourselves must be clear about some basic things: Are our current foreign workers a new incarnation of the former migrant workers? Or are they essentially something new? Are they hands that one hires and lets go again, or are they a component of our economy that is no longer dispensable? To what extent are they, as returnees back at home, the pacemakers of industrialization and the attendant market? Finally, to what extent is the equalization of workers a component of the still shadowy European Economic Community? In essence, everything depends on the question of how we should adjust ourselves to the foreign workers, down to the practical detail; for example, down to the way housing is built. The answer today is not yet easy, since it is racing ahead of the present reality. The difficulty begins already with an unresolved preliminary question.

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